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Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Simplified

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I'm often asked, "What if there are other people on the lease? Who has to make up the rent?" Not the landlord, that's for sure. Also, not the servicemember. The SCRA is silent in this area. In most states, the burden would likely fall on the remaining roommates. They would either have to make up the military member's share of the rent, or find another roommate. The SCRA gives the military member the right to terminate his/her own portion of the lease early, but the law does not require the landlord to decrease the amount of total rent for the property, nor does the law protect remaining non-military roommates (unless, of course, they are the member's legal dependents).

Automobile Leases. Military members may also terminate automobile leases in certain circumstances. Just like with residential leases, if a member enters into an automobile lease before going on active duty, the member may request termination of the lease when he/she goes onto active duty. However, for this to apply, the active duty must be for at least 180 continuous days. So, if a person joined the Reserves, and had orders for basic training and technical school, the total of which was only 120 days, he/she could not terminate the automobile lease under this act.

Additionally, military members making a permanent change of station (PCS) move, or who deploy for 180 days or longer may terminate such leases.

The act specifically covers " lease of a motor vehicle used, or intended to be used, by a servicemember or a servicemember's dependents for personal or business transportation."

To terminate the lease, the member must make the request in writing, along with a copy of orders. The member may deliver the notification by hand, by commercial carrier, or by mail (return receipt requested). Additionally, the member must then return the vehicle to the lessor within 15 days of delivery of the termination notice.

The lessor is prohibited from charging an early lease termination fee. However, any taxes, summonses, and title and registration fees and any other obligation and liability of the lessee in accordance with the terms of the lease, including reasonable charges to the lessee for excess wear, use and mileage, that are due and unpaid at the time of termination of the lease shall be paid by the lessee.

Evictions from leased housing. service member may seek protection from eviction under SSCRA. The rented/leased property must be occupied by the service member or his/her dependents for the purpose of housing, and the rent can not exceed $2,400 (for 2004 -- the actual amount is automatically adjusted each year, by the inflation rate). The servicemember or dependent who has received notice of an eviction must submit a request to the court for protection under the SSCRA. If the court finds that the service member’s military duties have materially affected his ability to pay his rent timely, the judge may order a stay, postponement, of the eviction proceeding for up to 3 months or make any other “just” order.

Installment Contracts. The SCRA gives certain protections against repossessions for installment contracts (including automobile leases). If the contract was entered into before going on active duty and at least one payment was made before that time, the creditor cannot repossess the property, while the member is on active duty, nor can they terminate the contract for breach, without a court order.

6% Interest Rate. If a service member’s military obligation has affected his/her ability to pay on financial obligations such as credit cards, loans, mortgages, etc., the service member can have his/her interest rate capped at 6% for the duration of the service member’s military obligation.

Qualifying debts are debts that were incurred by the service member, or the servicemember and their spouse, jointly, before coming on active duty. Debts entered into after going on active duty are not so protected.

Notice that this particular provision of the act only applies if a servicemember's military service affects their ability to pay. However, the burden is on the creditor to seek relief in court if the creditor believes that the service member’s military career does not materially affect his/her ability to pay. The creditor must comply, unless he/she gets a court-order stating otherwise.

In order for an obligation or liability of a servicemember to be subject to the interest rate limitation, the servicemember must provide to the creditor written notice and a copy of the military orders calling the servicemember to military service and any orders further extending military service, not later than 180 days after the date of the servicemember's termination or release from military service.

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